Head of NGO sheds light on Dokdo
Park Ki-tae, founder of the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK) is aiming to change foreigners’ perspective on Dokdo, Korea’s easternmost islets, and to raise their awareness about the history between Korea and Japan.
Park established the nongovernmental organization (NGO) in 1999 in an attempt to educate foreigners both on- and offline, through its members.
“Foreigners as well as Japanese must have the opportunity to learn the history of Korea and Japan. They will understand Dokdo belongs to Korea and the reason why the issue is sensitive to most Koreans,” said Park who has been providing information about Korea to international textbook publishers for the past 10 years.
Before establishing VANK, Park studied Japanese language and literature at Seokyung Univeristy in Seoul.
“At college I studied Japanese language and literature, I had Japanese friends both in Korea and Japan. All of them knew very little about Korea or had the wrong information,” said Park during an interview with The Korea Times.
Park was shocked that his friends, mostly college students were ignorant of the history between the nations. He decided to teach them about it. He believes if one Korean has five foreign friends, then millions of people around the world could have a correct understanding of Korea.
Park said it is much more effective to deal with political issues online as social networking services (SNS) gain momentum. Nowadays the power of SNS sometimes outweighs state level resolutions on political matters, said Park.
As more and more individuals communicate via the Internet beyond borders, VANK now has more than 70,000 members who have the dream of becoming cyber diplomats to let the world know about Korea.
Park has been a great instigator and motivator for Koreans to make them more proactive on historical and current issues.
Thanks to Park’s encouragement, about 250 youth members became “global Dokdo ambassadors” in cooperation with the North Gyeongsang Provincial Government last week.
Referring to the recent dispute over the East Sea, Park added that the issue of Dokdo and the naming of the waters between Korea and Japan are separate issues.
The ongoing International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) meeting began Monday to determine whether to use the “East Sea” and “Sea of Japan” concurrently to name the waters separating the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The dispute over the use of the name East Sea started in 1992, when South Korean government proposed to gain the name back from Japan, its former colonizer.
Park said the issue of the sea’s name is actively being discussed, but the issue of Dokdo is an indisputable matter that Korea can never negotiate on. He said Japan’s claims to Dokdo are a direct infringement of sovereignty.
Although the two issues are closely intertwined, Park cited the need to take different approaches in resolving them.
“We need delicate and multi-directional methods to protect our territory from Japan, and my effort is one of them,” he said.